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Connect Benefit Series 2021-22 – Student Success

04 Aug 2021 | Stuart Norton Stuart Norton, Senior Adviser in Learning and Teaching at Advance HE, introduces the first of our two six month-long longitudinal projects for the Connect Benefit Series for 2021-22 launching today and running until February.

Developing student success, providing students with the opportunity to fulfil their potential so that they can adapt at an individual and societal level, is essential. Not only will this enable them to be the new leaders, advocates, educators and citizens of tomorrow, but it will help them engage within and across communities, become ethically conscious, sustainably aware and competent to view the world through a lens of equality and inclusion.

Success isn’t restricted to ‘hard’ outcomes. It covers such areas as employability, student engagement, flexible learning, internationalising the curriculum, assessment and feedback practices, and access, retention, attainment and progression. Most, if not all, of these will be referenced within learning and teaching strategies, across mission groups and indeed globally.

Placed within a context that includes a global focus on teaching excellence, changes across varied policy landscapes, as well as the addition of a global health pandemic, there is ‘change within the air’ throughout higher education. While student success remains hard to define, there is plenty of evidence to support the need to focus upon these core areas to enable individual success, with illustrative examples from across the globe including:

  • at 69%, satisfaction scores for assessment in the UK National Student Survey continue to attract lower scores than many other areas within the survey (NSS 2021).
  • across all Nations of the UK more than 6% of UK domiciled undergraduates drop out in their first year of study - This costs universities and costs students lost time and money (spent or borrowed), and failure can negatively impact their wellbeing and future success? (HESA 2021).
  • highlighting the challenge of retention for a range of countries, the RAND corporation (2007) in its most recent international comparison, showed retention rates for completion (survival) of HE as:
Australia Ireland Netherlands UK USA
69% 85% 69% 83% 66%
  • in the UK, the biggest differences in degree attainment can be attributed to ethnic background. Advance HE Equality in HE publication (2020) shows the attainment gap between white and black students qualifying with a First/2:1 degree was 22.6 %. The report also highlights that the proportion of students who disclosed a disability has more than doubled since 2003/04.
  • the pandemic has sharpened the focus on flexible learning, learning spaces, blended learning, high flex and hybrid models of teaching and learning, with a particular emphasis on assessment and support for virtual/distance/online placements.
  • in the UK Engagement Survey (2020), when asked about their skills development, students reported the lowest score for acquiring employability skills.
  • the Australian Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS) 2020, while reporting high overall satisfaction with graduates (84.7%), when asked about the main ways qualifications could better prepare graduates for employment, over 25% of comments referred to enhancing employability and enterprise skills.
  • in the 2020 QS Global Employability rankings, HEIs from the following countries were included in the bottom 10 (490-500); Egypt, UAE, Iran, Greece, New Zealand, Belarus, Indonesia, USA; highlighting the diversity and complexity of these challenges faced by HEIs globally to enhance employability and student success. 

Recognising the depth, breadth and complexity of enhancing student success, the next six month member benefit will specifically shine a spotlight on two core areas with forthcoming literature reviews (2016-2021) in:

  • Employability
  • Access, Retention, Attainment and Progression

Part of the forthcoming activity includes a number of opportunities to engage with the Authors of each review via blogs, podcasts, infographics and webinars.

We also have a fantastic opportunity for Advance HE members to engage through forthcoming Advance HE Summits. Here we will be exploring these reviews by bringing together member academics and practitioners from across the globe to discuss key aspects through the various lenses of the Framework series. Ultimately, these reviews and Summits will help shape the forthcoming updates to the Advance HE Essential Frameworks for Enhancing Student Success. We recognise that these areas are interlinked and entwined with the need to be collaborative, flexible, connected, and inclusive. We welcome your input in ensuring that our approach is created in response to your need and in collaboration with the sector, drawing on both scholarly research and practice, and the knowledge and expertise of HE practitioners and professionals from across the Tertiary sector.   

Of course, student success is not simply limited to these two thematic areas, but for now we are shining a light on our most recent research, evidence and activity. Rest assured, there will be further opportunities beyond this period to engage in other priority areas linked to the Framework series and the conversation can always be developed through our community platform Connect. Similarly, during this six month period there will also be a wealth of additional activity and resources aligned to the theme, including a guide to the 2019 Advance HE Framework for Embedding Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in Education. There will also be opportunities to learn from sector-wide case studies in forthcoming Advance HE publications and through a range of blogs. For now it leaves me simply to welcome you to join us for a perfectly filled and fulfilling six months of activity!


Stuart is a Senior Adviser in Learning and Teaching for Advance HE and is leading the review and update of the Student Success Framework series. Stuart has worked in Academia since 2003 and joined Advance HE in 2016. Stuart has supported a range of institutions, discipline communities and individual academic and professional services staff through a variety of direct events and consultancy interventions. His work also includes international projects where most recently he has supported HEIs in Lithuania, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Thailand, as well as regional initiatives with the British Council (Sub Saharan Africa) and the Department of International Trade (MENA). Stuart’s role is diverse and transitions across the core thematic areas of student success, where he takes a keen role in supporting sector-wide learning and teaching policy. Follow him on Twitter: @S_J_Norton

More information on the 2022-23 Connect Benefit Series thematic projects can be found here.

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